Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Vienna Presbyterian’s Response to Abuse Markedly Different from that of Susan Goff, DioVA


Some years ago, Vienna Presbyterian faced a scandal involving its youth minister, who allegedly had abused young women in the church. As it struggled to deal with the crisis, the church took an approach profoundly different than that of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Bishop Susan “Perjury’s Okay” Goff.

Shortly after news of the scandal broke, the church received the following directive from its insurance carrier:
“Do not make any statements, orally, in writing or in any manner, to acknowledge, admit to or apologize for anything that may be evidence of or interpreted as (a suggestion that) the actions of Vienna Presbyterian Church ... caused or contributed to any damages arising from the intentional acts/abuse/misconduct” by the youth director.”
The church declined to follow the attorney’s advice, with its board saying in a letter to the church, “Members of Staff and of Session are profoundly sorry that VPC’s response after the abuse was discovered was not always helpful to those entrusted to our care.”

Similarly, Pastor Peter James said in a sermon, “We won’t hide behind lawyers ... Jesus said the truth will set us free.”

Ironically, Bob Malm, in an email to the church vestry, which included his talking points that falsely stated that Mike and I left the church on our own and that our claims were untrue, cited the same Biblical verse, noting that it is “itched” in the church’s rose window.

Today, of course, Grace Church, Susan Goff, and the Diocese continue to try to defend their conduct in court, including their claim that Bob Malm’s perjury is not actionable as a disciplinary matter unless he faces criminal charges.

And that is exactly why the Episcopal Church is nearing its end—with few exceptions, it has lost all claim to moral legitimacy. Instead, it’s all about power, control, and ownership of assets.





Saturday, March 7, 2020

Diocesan Response to Bob Malm’s Perjury, Misconduct Encourages Abuse, Discourages Reporting




Recently, one of the members of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors spoke to media via Skype as she trains church members in Australia to implement more robust measures to protect children from abuse. Her sobering comments hold damning implications for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Susan Goff, and the way that diocesan officials respond to allegations of clergy misconduct.

“If we would expect that with all the guidelines we have in place we can prevent abuse 100 percent, we would be naïve,” said Dr. Myriam Wijlens of the Netherlands. “We cannot prevent it in the Church in as much as we cannot prevent it in the Scouts or sports. No system will ever be perfect.”

However, she [said], “we can, and I believe we do, learn to be more attentive, listen and see the signals better and thus improve our reaction. This goes for those in leadership as well as parents and other faithful in the church: we are indeed all more attentive. There is also a better culture that encourages victims to speak and report. The preventive measures will hopefully mean that abusers are not moved and that thus repetitive abuse may be prevented.” (Emphasis added.)

That raises the question: Would any person in his or her right mind go to the diocese with concerns about potential clergy misconduct when the diocese allows retaliation, up to and including perjury on Bob Malm’s part? Would you be comfortable sharing your story with a diocese that is prepared to say that perjury by a priest is only actionable if criminal charges are brought? How do you feel about a church that tries to drag the dying into court?

The answer, of course, is that no one is going to stick their neck out when the diocese responds like this.

The answer becomes even more starkly clear when, as in Bob Malm’s case, the diocese turns a blind eye to breach of confidentiality in the complaint process. Complaints are supposed to be confidential, but the diocese knew and turned a blind eye to Bob Malm’s disclosure of my complaint to Jeff Aaron and others. Yes, it eventually took action, but nothing serious. The fact that Bob Malm doesn’t even adhere to canonically mandated confidentiality should serve as a warning sign to anyone dealing with him, or the diocese itself.

This paradigm has profound implications within the larger Title IV process. Given that clergy occupy the position of perceived power in any complaint situation, parents who for example allege sexual abuse of a child face insurmountable challenges if the diocese is willing to allow retaliation, and turn its back on all clergy misconduct that does not involve criminal charges. Their only option is to get out, and hope that police take their complaints seriously.

In short, the situation with Bob Malm calls into question the entire Title IV system and its ability to address clergy misconduct. Additionally, it makes clear that diocesan officials simply cannot be trusted with issues of this sort.

Read more about the Catholic Church and Dr. Wijlins’ interview here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

“If It’s Inconceivable, It’s Unperceivable”

Someone recently asked me if folks like David Crosby will ever recognize that Bob Malm committed perjury and otherwise abused his office. The answer to that question is no.

As Robin Hammeal-Urban says in her book on clergy misconduct, there’s an old saying among church judicatories, “If it’s inconceivable, it’s unperceivable.”

That means that this who cannot accept the notion that Bob Malm is a perjurer and bully will simply never be able to accept the fact that he is, no matter how clear the evidence. David’s faith has its roots in his friendship with Bob, and it’s simply not possible for him to admit to himself that Bob is a fake, a fraud.

As Robin notes, that are others who will vacillate between believing that Bob engaged in misconduct, and believing such conduct to be impossible on his part.

Her conclusion:
It is essential that congregations find ways to embrace all members regardless of differences in their experiences of misconduct. To help a faith community come to terms with congregational misconduct, members need accurate, timely information about the transgression(s) and opportunities to process that information as a community.
Of course, we all know that won’t happen. 

Susan Goff, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and parish leaders are all committed to a policy of denial and evasion. No evidence to the contrary will ever be sufficient to engender a meaningful response from these so-called leaders.

As a result, I now fully believe that the parish and the diocese ultimately will collapse from their own internal rot and ethical decay,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Check it Out: Virginia Giuffre Lends Her Support

As news of my lawsuit against Grace Episcopal, Bishop Susan Goff, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia gets out, I was happy to see that Epstein sex trafficking victim Virginia Giuffre has tweeted her support.

Thanks to all who continue to get out word about Episcopal priest Bob Malm and his perjury, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s continuing support and defense of his perjury.




Thursday, October 10, 2019

Some Advice for the Church

There are not two sides to every story. Stop making excuses. Stop lecturing people.

Learn to listen.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Surviving.Church Relaunches


Surviving Church, my general blogging platform on church abuse, is back!

Operating under the twin domains of surviving.church and anglicanwatch.com, the site offers a non-evangelical approach to abuse, while welcoming diverse perspectives.

Content is both original and syndicated from a variety of sister blog, including Episcopal Cafe, the Wartburg Watch, Wade Mullen and more.

Early traffic is good, and I hope to start seeing comments within the first year. And, true to form, the predictable Chinese scanners are already scanning the site. What a world we live in!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Virginia Supreme Court Case Spells Bad News for Parish, Diocese



As things gear up for a possible lawsuit in the coming weeks against Bob Malm, Grace Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, a recent state Supreme Court spells bad news for the potential defendants.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the court overturned a lower court dismissal of a tortious claim of negligence against the the denomination, the Church of God in Christ; and against local church officials for negligence and respondent superior, based on allegations that church officials had a special relationship with the plaintiff and had failed in their duty of care to her. As a result, the case is going forward.

In the case of Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church, diocesan officials knew of Bob Malm’s deliberate misuse of funds, but declined to act. Moreover, they have been fully apprised of Malm’s perjury and other tortious acts, but have consistently covered up and ignored Malm’s actions. As a result, should the case go to trial, the diocese likely will be held liable.



Thursday, August 22, 2019

Webs of Deception: How abusers weave threads to capture the truth.

The following, used with the permission of the Rev. Wade Mullen, is an excellent piece on how abusers weave webs of deceit to hide their actions. I believe it well describes Bob Malm’s smear campaigns directed at me, as well as his efforts to convince people that they are threatened by “domestic terrorism,” — a phrase directly from Bob’s pleadings to the Venango County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania. The pleading was filed in conjunction with his effort, in contravention of state law, to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court.




A primary goal of the exposed abuser is to capture the truth in a web of deception. It’s a highly deceptive process intended to control your perceptions so you see only what the deceiver wants you to see. 

The ability to weave a web of deception is never put on display as much as it is when the deceiver is confronted or exposed. I’ve seen abusive individuals deftly spin a web of deception around the truth in a matter of minutes. They do this by weaving threads between themselves and issues or people indirectly related to the central truths. These tactics of deception are similar to what is described in the field of sociology as “impression management by association.” I see these associations made all the time by abusers in my advocacy and research.

Using the metaphor of a spider web, here are 8 hard to recognize threads:

  1. The exposed abuser might create a thread between themselves and others people view favorably. They draw attention to another person or group and then boast in their positive connection to them. They will bask in the reflected glory of someone else’s values when their’s are questioned. One of the most common examples of this is seen in the abuser who seeks to highlight a positive connection with God or a spiritual leader.
  2. They will then spin a thread around more serious examples of wrongs and boast in how they are not like such people and have never engaged in such horrible behavior, and that they would even go out of their way to oppose such behavior. You are then led to believe they should not be connected to the less serious actions they are accused of. The individual who abuses verbally and psychologically might draw comparisons to other types of abuse they deem more serious and promote how they are not like such people.
  3. They might thread together their life’s work and their contribution to that work. This is often seen in response to a specific question about a specific behavior. Rather than address the details of their behavior, they spotlight their life in general because it is easier to defend. This tactic subtly diverts attention away from any specific words or actions they know are more difficult to explain.
  4. If they can’t escape addressing the story, they will weave together an effective fiction. This new version is said to provide clarity when in fact it produces confusion. Nobody, even the abuser, seems to possess an accurate recollection of events, so everyone moves on because they grow tired of trying to see through the fog.
  5. Abusers quickly identify who their supporters are and then use flattery, compliments, and expressions of appreciation to thread themselves to their supporters. They will publicly enhance their positive attributes in order to bolster the credibility of their judgement. The more people view with favor the people the abuser is positively connected to, the more likely they are to believe the abuser.
  6. They will quickly identify who their critics are and then thread their criticism to fabricated or exaggerated negative attributes like hatred, bitterness, and revenge. Criticism is then viewed by others as malicious and misguided, and perhaps even evil. The more people view with disfavor the people the abuser is negatively associated with (critics), the more likely they are to believe the abuser.
  7. Abusers may go so far as to add their family members to this portion of the web. By connecting the accusers to the perceived negative effects the allegations are having on their family, the abuser pours more condemnation on their critics & requests more help from supporters. This is a common tactic in which the innocent are used as a shield to protect the abuser. 
  8. If necessary (and only if necessary) an abuser will spin an apology. This apology will not be threaded to the truth of their actions, but to unintended mistakes that resulted in unintended harm. The apology is a deception that seeks to retain legitimacy and avoid shame. The words “I’m sorry” can be used to disarm those who are seeking to free the truth from the web. 

Abusers will keep creating these connections, and will spin so many threads that their supporters will be convinced of their innocence. They then become objects as well that the abuser can attach threads to in an effort to strengthen their claims of innocence. These supporters fail to see they are trapped in the web themselves, having simply conformed to the pattern they were weaved into.

Those who do escape the web walk away bewildered, unsure of how to address an issue that once was as clear as day. To the abuser’s satisfaction, they soon forget that behind all those threads is an entrapped truth, a truth that could have freed others had it remained free itself.

The truth-seeker must have the patience and wisdom to see each thread, understand its purpose, and then detach it from the truth it is seeking to capture. For example, when asking a specific question about a specific behavior, the abuser might respond by saying, “Listen, I’ve always treated people with respect.” That thread needs to be removed by drawing attention back to the specifics. And nothing frustrates the deceiver’s attempt to spin a web more than the person who keeps removing each thread.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

++Justin Welby, the Diocese of Virginia, and Abuse: Casual Indifference, Lying, and Bullying as a Common Thread

Archbishop Welby: Breathtaking Hypocrisy

Bishop Susan Goff, Breathtaking Hypocrisy

It’s been an intertesting day for the Church of England. Today was the final day of hearings by the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, a commission that is examining the role of the church in child sex abuse. Among those testifying was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who had been criticized during previous sessions as unfit to lead. His testimony was, to put in bluntly, appalling, and showed that he was, and is, utterly clueless when it comes to abuse. And the really troubling parts of his testimony are startlingly similar to the tactics employed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Bishop Susan Goff in their efforts to avoid dealing with Bob Malm’s abusive conduct. Particularly ugly is Welby’s facially false claim he didn’t treat allegations of misconduct involving an adult with “casual indifference,” which is exactly how the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia treats complaints of non-sexual clergy abuse involving adults.

++Welby’s woes center around an unidentified adult complainant, who contacted him while Welby was dean of the Liverpool Cathedral in 2011.The complainant attempted to notify Welby that he was being sexually harassed by a member of the cathedral staff. The result? The abuser remained on Welby’s staff, while Welby barred the victim from the grounds of the cathedral on the basis that he had been threatening to staff, and that the latter were very frightened of him.

Sound familiar? Sure does. It sounds for all the world like Bob Malm’s claim that people at Grace Church are frightened of me. That’s cute, since most only found about Mom’s blog and its supposed threats thanks to — you guessed it — none other than Dysfunctional Bob himself. And in that respect, Bob went to church officials, telling them that his family and staff were, “anxious, sometimes fearful.” At the same time, he got his wife Leslie all spun up; he also was the one who told Leslie about Mom’s blog. And so, back and forth, Bob played his little game of shuttle diplomacy. (Although he did slip up once, telling diocesan officials that his wife and daughter [Lindsey] took the matter far too seriously.

My bet? The abuser on Welby’s staff played this up, or possibly Welby himself. Interestingly, Welby, like Malm, also appears to have made a statement against interest. On the one hand, he claims that staff was frightened by the victim, yet says he would have rescinded the ban had the victim apologized. All I can say is they couldn’t have been all that scared, now could they? And it fails to recognize that victims of abuse, not suprisingly, get really angry, especially when they get the big brush-off.

To make matters worse, Welby told the complainant via email that his account, and that of the abuser, were entirely inconconsistent, and that absent independent verification, he could not assess which was true. That underscores the notion that Welby is clueless, for evidence overwhelmingly suggests that sexual misconduct is rarely falsely reported. And my experience is that people are doubly reluctant to complain when clergy is involved, for they instinctively know that they face a power imbalance. Thus, Welby doesn’t even grasp the dynamics of clergy abuse.

Next comes Welby’s claim that he took the matter seriously. That appears to be total horse crud, as the abuser stayed, and the victim got the heave-ho. On this matter, Welby says he regarded the matter as a disciplinary complaint, not a safeguarding one. So what? Welby doesn’t think adults get abused or sexually harassed? Ironically, in the diocese of Virginia, about the only way to get the diocese involved is to implicate sex; sex is the touchstone for a disciplinary complaint. Be that as it may, nothing in the record suggests Welby took any meaningful action. So yes, it looks for all the world like Welby treated the complaint with “casual indifference.”

Of course, that’s how the Diocese and Susan Goff have treated Bob Malm’s perjury. “Hey, he didn’t get convicted. What’s the big deal?”

Then we have Welby’s claim that he apologized to Matthew Ineson, who allegedly was raped by a Church of England vicar; the latter committed suicide when the allegations came to light. I personally have been in touch with Ineson, and find his evidence convincing that Welby never did apologize, and that his one alleged apology was not even possible, given the larger timeline of events. This is much like the Rev. Caroline Parkinson’s false claim, in writing, that the reference panel in July 2015 considered Bob Malm’s decision to remove us from the church directory. The latter was an obvious lie:
  • Bob did not remove us from the directory until October. Thus, Caroline would have had to time travel.
  • I was given no advisor or written notice from a reference panel. Thus, it either didn’t happen, or failed to follow church canons.
So, I agree with Ineson’s statement that Welby has demonstrated “breathtaking hypocrisy.” And his comments about how the CoE has responded to his complaints exactly mirror my experiences with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia:

“I know from my own experience, and the experience of others, that safeguarding within the C of E is appalling,” Ineson said. “The church has colluded with the cover-up of abuse and has obstructed justice for those whose lives have been ruined by the actions of its clergy. I have been fighting for five years for the church to recognise its responsibilities and I’m still being met with attempts to bully me into dropping my case.”

Yes, ++is engaged in breathtaking hypocrisy. So is the CoE. And The Episcopal Church is equally culpable, with the corruption and hypocrisy extending all the way to ++Curry, +Todd Ousley, +Johnston and +Goff. 

Any church that is willing to lie, deflect, bully, and ignore abuse in this manner is morally bankrupt. 




Friday, May 10, 2019

DioVA Response to Abuse Mirrors Failures in Church of England

As many now know, an independent commission in the UK recently released a scathing report on abuse in the Church of England. The report had its genesis in allegations of abuse involving Bishop Ball, who had ties that extended all the way to the British royal family.

Sadly, the report sounds very much like the Diocese of Virginia and the way the latter handles allegations of clergy misconduct, particularly in regard to Bob Malm’s ongoing abuse of power. Indeed, change the names and you have my experience, almost verbatim.

Noting that the Church of England had, in multiple cases, protected its reputation at the expense of victims, it went on to outline in damning terms an ongoing series of reprehensible moral failures, including:
  • Discounting Ball’s conduct as “trivial and insignificant” while displaying “callous indifference” to the complaints of victims.
  • Delaying a proper investigation into the matter for two decades.
  • Failing to have sufficient regard for the well-being of those injured by Ball’s abuse.
  • Issuing an unconvincing apology.
  • Giving a popular priest preferential treatment, while demonstrating a lack of compassion for the victims.
This willingness to utterly disregard all moral and ethical reference points when convenient appears to me to be endemic in organized religion, and particularly prevalent in The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Indeed, the only thing the latter appears to do well is to litigate over property. But without love or compassion, or genuine concern for others, why bother? The litigation, which I foolishly supported, was a complete waste of time and money. In short, it was the proverbial case of two bald men fighting over a comb.

Here’s a screen cap summarizing the findings in the Church of England report.





Thursday, April 18, 2019

To All the Christian Friends I Could Not Keep


On May 21st, 2013, my life changed forever. My house church in Redlands, CA, became a cult, put me on trial, and tried to coerce me to sign a contract that forbade questioning the leadership. They called such questions “slander.”
The antinomian teachings of Hyper Grace had taken hold of this fifty-member community, and they ultimately shunned me, along with their families, friends, and other house churches in the area.
I was devastated, because I knew that this sort of thing—authoritarian dictators running rampant with impunity—happens often in churches. I had been studying it and learning about it. I knew it even had a name: spiritual abuse. I determined to warn others and speak out, even when my vocabulary and composure couldn’t keep up.
As my friends went from drunkenness to drug use, from marijuana to heroin, from twisting the Scriptures to ignoring them entirely, the apathy of so many parents and pastors and onlookers in Redlands matched what I came to understand was the larger Christian world.
Like every victim, my entry into the survivor community was unexpected and involuntary, and every plea for help became a silent scream into a vacuum where no answers come.
Those were my “all caps days,” when I wrote status after status on Facebook—never in a dignified way—seeking to share my experiences of abuse. I thought that if you heard from a person you knew, speaking about how abuse is thriving in churches, you would understand what has been happening for far too long.
I thought you would understand what I was saying about Bill Gothard, Doug Philips, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Tony Jones, Bill Hybels, Andy Savage, Tullian Tchividjian, C.J. Mahaney, James MacDonald, and too many others to mention. I thought you would understand how these leaders and the culture that enables them are not unique or isolated incidents but part of a hellish pattern.
I thought you would see this pattern and understand my burden to stop it.  
I was wrong.
Maybe I was naïve, thinking Christians were different from the average person. Your preaching about love and family and commitment gave me the impression you knew what you were talking about. But when push comes to shove, it has actually been the non-Christians in my life who treated me better than the Christians.
The biggest lesson being your friend taught me is how I should not try to persuade people to love me who are committed to misunderstanding me. I will no longer negotiate my worth. Even if you disagree, I deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion because I am created in the image of the invisible God.
Yet you’d rather make me “unhinged,” nothing more than garbage, a Peter who cries “wolf,” rather than consider I may actually know what I’m talking about. 
I wish you understood.
I wish you knew what I did about how unsafe Sunday really is.
I wish you knew the many people I do, whose lives stand in sharp contrast to your own. 
The subtle biases many of us face is a web of indifference. It is that attitude, that mindset hiding in plain sight, that the Church is somehow immune from evil and that abuse does not happen there.
Instead, the soul-crushing truth is that abuse would not thrive in the Church if it weren’t for the indifference of those whose privilege has isolated them from reality.
I wish instead of invalidating our experiences you could just listen. When we tell you that women experience the Church differently than men, how vulnerable children and the disabled are, how harsh the punishment is for disagreeing with a pastor, or what it’s like when you tell the truth in a community that professes to love truth, you cannot just disagree.
Not only is this insulting, it is dehumanizing. Your denial robs us from the very thing we need the most—a community where we can heal.
Instead, the survivors of the Church have become so numerous that we now have formed a community of our own. I believe it is another revival, but instead of God bringing people to the institutional church, He is rescuing people from it. The industry, the celebrities, the publishing houses and radio stations—the big money that comes from playing along—none of it glorifies Jesus, because there is nothing sacred about an institution that hides evil.
You see these survivors in such places like conferences on abuse—the Courage Conference, the Conquer Conference, the Valued Conference, or smaller get-togethers that are not so public.
You’ll find them in #Exvangelicals, #ChurchToo, and #EmptyThePews. Some of the voices are strident or openly heretical, but I understand that is what happens when faith hurts.
Far from hating the Church or you, I do love you. I wish you were still my friend. But your lack of presence demonstrates the fact you had no empathy to begin with. I was an enigma that you tried to solve, a curiosity you tried to manage, a problem—but never a person to be loved.
You’ve never applied yourself to deeply love the broken or wounded on the roadside. Deep down, you’re so afraid that you could be vulnerable to abuse or assault that you assign blame to the victimized. The randomness of life is so terrible a thing to contend with that somehow we “deserved” what we experienced.
Maybe that’s why you never reached out and said, “Help me understand.” Maybe that’s why you never called to ask “Are you okay?” Your mind was already made up about us, even as we trusted you to love us.
Instead you asked, “Why are you so bitter?” “Why aren’t you going to church?” “Why aren’t you reading your Bible?”
You claimed “no church is perfect,” asked if we were “working toward reconciliation,” and accused us of gossip and slander.
You act as though there is no reason to be angry or hurt by this. You are surprised Bible verses dispassionately recited can harm people. You are offended when we say we aren’t troublemakers because there is already trouble inside your community. The people you are called to love, you refer to as slanderers, divisive, and renegades.
And you say we can go to you for anything.
We see the contradiction. We see no urgency to care. We see you’re just looking for reasons to shove us away and then wonder why we never come to church.
I learned the hard way that when abuse happens in religious communities, a steadfast commitment to truth can be a relational death sentence. Often it is the people in power who abuse, and often it is those very people you cannot question.
The clearest indicator that a community is in dangerous territory is when we cannot question our leaders. Our demeanor does not matter, nor how we frame our words, because this isn’t about how we say it—it is about what we are saying that makes us, somehow, unworthy of your time.
As the years have passed, I not only gained the vocabulary for knowing what has happened to me and others, but I feel what Emily Dickenson wrote when she said, “There is a languor of life, more imminent than pain. ‘Tis pain’s successor, when the soul has suffered all it can.” I understand what Brené Brown wrote when she said, “You can choose courage or comfort but you cannot choose both.” I understand what Fred Rogers meant when he said, “Listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another.”
Far from being angry with you, I read our last emails and messages and sometimes look you up. I often dare to wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday. I have many such messages in my draft folders. But I know you have not reexamined your position, because you have not reached out to me.
You are enshrined in your certainty that you are right and the many survivors who are speaking out are wrong.
There are so many of us in the Church who remain outside of the sanctuary on Sunday, yet our absence means nothing to you. The show must go on, because pretense matters more than our presence.  
In so doing, you scoff at people’s pain. Your silence in the face of our pain makes you complicit for so much of it.
Now, tell us truly: who is the hateful one? Who is the divisive one? Who is the slanderer? Who is unsafe?
I didn’t destroy our friendship. It broke my heart to learn you were not incapable—just unwilling—to truly love me and those like me. When you walked away, I had to learn to do the same. But I never wanted to do that.  
If you ever returned to me, having looked into these matters and with a sincere apology were ready to fight for a world without abuse, I would love to have you back. 
Sadly, I believe the next time I will see many of you is during the end of all things, when we all stand before Him before whose face the earth and heavens will fade away. There He will tell us that when we gave a drink to the thirsty, when we welcomed the stranger, when we clothed the poor, and when we visited the prisoner, we were doing it to Him.
He will pierce us with His fiery gaze and see when we failed to love others. You will ask when you failed.
And then I imagine He will gesture to us. Those of us who hungered for righteousness and thirsted for justice but were not fed. Those of us who were exiled from our church families and never welcomed back. Those of us who stood naked and ashamed when shame was not ours to bear and yet were not clothed and protected.
Those of us who languished under the weight of chains from oppressive abusers and were not visited or freed, but were looked upon with indifference, if we were ever seen at all.
I’m not sure what will happen next for you at that moment—if punishment comes for those who say they are Christ’s yet lived as though they were not. But I do hope you will then realize what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.
Your brother,
Ryan

Ryan Ashton is a survivor, advocate, and graphic designer with a BFA in Graphic Design. He is the Director of Technology and Social Media for GRACE and the Creative Director for The Courage Conference. Ryan currently volunteers with Greenville (SC)’s Julie Valentine Center as a sexual assault victim advocate.

To All the Christian Friends I Could Not Keep


On May 21st, 2013, my life changed forever. My house church in Redlands, CA, became a cult, put me on trial, and tried to coerce me to sign a contract that forbade questioning the leadership. They called such questions “slander.”
The antinomian teachings of Hyper Grace had taken hold of this fifty-member community, and they ultimately shunned me, along with their families, friends, and other house churches in the area.
I was devastated, because I knew that this sort of thing—authoritarian dictators running rampant with impunity—happens often in churches. I had been studying it and learning about it. I knew it even had a name: spiritual abuse. I determined to warn others and speak out, even when my vocabulary and composure couldn’t keep up.
As my friends went from drunkenness to drug use, from marijuana to heroin, from twisting the Scriptures to ignoring them entirely, the apathy of so many parents and pastors and onlookers in Redlands matched what I came to understand was the larger Christian world.
Like every victim, my entry into the survivor community was unexpected and involuntary, and every plea for help became a silent scream into a vacuum where no answers come.
Those were my “all caps days,” when I wrote status after status on Facebook—never in a dignified way—seeking to share my experiences of abuse. I thought that if you heard from a person you knew, speaking about how abuse is thriving in churches, you would understand what has been happening for far too long.
I thought you would understand what I was saying about Bill Gothard, Doug Philips, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Tony Jones, Bill Hybels, Andy Savage, Tullian Tchividjian, C.J. Mahaney, James MacDonald, and too many others to mention. I thought you would understand how these leaders and the culture that enables them are not unique or isolated incidents but part of a hellish pattern.
I thought you would see this pattern and understand my burden to stop it.  
I was wrong.
Maybe I was naïve, thinking Christians were different from the average person. Your preaching about love and family and commitment gave me the impression you knew what you were talking about. But when push comes to shove, it has actually been the non-Christians in my life who treated me better than the Christians.
The biggest lesson being your friend taught me is how I should not try to persuade people to love me who are committed to misunderstanding me. I will no longer negotiate my worth. Even if you disagree, I deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion because I am created in the image of the invisible God.
Yet you’d rather make me “unhinged,” nothing more than garbage, a Peter who cries “wolf,” rather than consider I may actually know what I’m talking about. 
I wish you understood.
I wish you knew what I did about how unsafe Sunday really is.
I wish you knew the many people I do, whose lives stand in sharp contrast to your own. 
The subtle biases many of us face is a web of indifference. It is that attitude, that mindset hiding in plain sight, that the Church is somehow immune from evil and that abuse does not happen there.
Instead, the soul-crushing truth is that abuse would not thrive in the Church if it weren’t for the indifference of those whose privilege has isolated them from reality.
I wish instead of invalidating our experiences you could just listen. When we tell you that women experience the Church differently than men, how vulnerable children and the disabled are, how harsh the punishment is for disagreeing with a pastor, or what it’s like when you tell the truth in a community that professes to love truth, you cannot just disagree.
Not only is this insulting, it is dehumanizing. Your denial robs us from the very thing we need the most—a community where we can heal.
Instead, the survivors of the Church have become so numerous that we now have formed a community of our own. I believe it is another revival, but instead of God bringing people to the institutional church, He is rescuing people from it. The industry, the celebrities, the publishing houses and radio stations—the big money that comes from playing along—none of it glorifies Jesus, because there is nothing sacred about an institution that hides evil.
You see these survivors in such places like conferences on abuse—the Courage Conference, the Conquer Conference, the Valued Conference, or smaller get-togethers that are not so public.
You’ll find them in #Exvangelicals, #ChurchToo, and #EmptyThePews. Some of the voices are strident or openly heretical, but I understand that is what happens when faith hurts.
Far from hating the Church or you, I do love you. I wish you were still my friend. But your lack of presence demonstrates the fact you had no empathy to begin with. I was an enigma that you tried to solve, a curiosity you tried to manage, a problem—but never a person to be loved.
You’ve never applied yourself to deeply love the broken or wounded on the roadside. Deep down, you’re so afraid that you could be vulnerable to abuse or assault that you assign blame to the victimized. The randomness of life is so terrible a thing to contend with that somehow we “deserved” what we experienced.
Maybe that’s why you never reached out and said, “Help me understand.” Maybe that’s why you never called to ask “Are you okay?” Your mind was already made up about us, even as we trusted you to love us.
Instead you asked, “Why are you so bitter?” “Why aren’t you going to church?” “Why aren’t you reading your Bible?”
You claimed “no church is perfect,” asked if we were “working toward reconciliation,” and accused us of gossip and slander.
You act as though there is no reason to be angry or hurt by this. You are surprised Bible verses dispassionately recited can harm people. You are offended when we say we aren’t troublemakers because there is already trouble inside your community. The people you are called to love, you refer to as slanderers, divisive, and renegades.
And you say we can go to you for anything.
We see the contradiction. We see no urgency to care. We see you’re just looking for reasons to shove us away and then wonder why we never come to church.
I learned the hard way that when abuse happens in religious communities, a steadfast commitment to truth can be a relational death sentence. Often it is the people in power who abuse, and often it is those very people you cannot question.
The clearest indicator that a community is in dangerous territory is when we cannot question our leaders. Our demeanor does not matter, nor how we frame our words, because this isn’t about how we say it—it is about what we are saying that makes us, somehow, unworthy of your time.
As the years have passed, I not only gained the vocabulary for knowing what has happened to me and others, but I feel what Emily Dickenson wrote when she said, “There is a languor of life, more imminent than pain. ‘Tis pain’s successor, when the soul has suffered all it can.” I understand what Brené Brown wrote when she said, “You can choose courage or comfort but you cannot choose both.” I understand what Fred Rogers meant when he said, “Listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another.”
Far from being angry with you, I read our last emails and messages and sometimes look you up. I often dare to wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday. I have many such messages in my draft folders. But I know you have not reexamined your position, because you have not reached out to me.
You are enshrined in your certainty that you are right and the many survivors who are speaking out are wrong.
There are so many of us in the Church who remain outside of the sanctuary on Sunday, yet our absence means nothing to you. The show must go on, because pretense matters more than our presence.  
In so doing, you scoff at people’s pain. Your silence in the face of our pain makes you complicit for so much of it.
Now, tell us truly: who is the hateful one? Who is the divisive one? Who is the slanderer? Who is unsafe?
I didn’t destroy our friendship. It broke my heart to learn you were not incapable—just unwilling—to truly love me and those like me. When you walked away, I had to learn to do the same. But I never wanted to do that.  
If you ever returned to me, having looked into these matters and with a sincere apology were ready to fight for a world without abuse, I would love to have you back. 
Sadly, I believe the next time I will see many of you is during the end of all things, when we all stand before Him before whose face the earth and heavens will fade away. There He will tell us that when we gave a drink to the thirsty, when we welcomed the stranger, when we clothed the poor, and when we visited the prisoner, we were doing it to Him.
He will pierce us with His fiery gaze and see when we failed to love others. You will ask when you failed.
And then I imagine He will gesture to us. Those of us who hungered for righteousness and thirsted for justice but were not fed. Those of us who were exiled from our church families and never welcomed back. Those of us who stood naked and ashamed when shame was not ours to bear and yet were not clothed and protected.
Those of us who languished under the weight of chains from oppressive abusers and were not visited or freed, but were looked upon with indifference, if we were ever seen at all.
I’m not sure what will happen next for you at that moment—if punishment comes for those who say they are Christ’s yet lived as though they were not. But I do hope you will then realize what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.
Your brother,
Ryan

Ryan Ashton is a survivor, advocate, and graphic designer with a BFA in Graphic Design. He is the Director of Technology and Social Media for GRACE and the Creative Director for The Courage Conference. Ryan currently volunteers with Greenville (SC)’s Julie Valentine Center as a sexual assault victim advocate.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Imagine if the Church Said, “I’m Sorry”

I saw this op-ed on the Chicago Sun-Times. It is reprinted with permission.

Imagine if the church said, ‘I’m sorry’

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Imagine if the church said, “I’m sorry.”

Imagine the collective of Christian churches across America creating, even for just one day, a safe space for those who have been abused in the church, or by the church, to say openly before the assembly — without condemnation that something happened to them in this the most sacred of places we hold so dear.

Imagine …

Imagine if the church ceased from telling church-wounded brothers and sisters to simply “get over it.” Imagine if the church stopped scolding or shaming those countless “victims” over their inability to simply move on. Imagine if the church had a Me Too moment.

OPINION

Imagine a church that no longer attempted to whitewash sins inflicted by the clergy upon the laity — often in secret and shrouded by a form of godliness, though purely evil and often criminal.

The lesser sins: The backbiting from the pews, the shaming, denigration and legalism from the pulpit, the misuse of power. The abuses almost too incomprehensible to utter that have left the sheep bruised and scarred, battered or barely breathing, bitter, until finally turned off to the church and to God, as the church abides mostly in complicit silence.

It is a pervasive silence that has swept over the church at large like a thick fog that obscures the truth and reality of life, love, joy and pain within the age-old institution.

The church. It has been co-opted by a 21st century bling-bling Gospel, by prosperity doctrine and the emergence of the mega church. It is today a much more insular church than the church of old, intoxicatingly focused on building temples of brick and mortar rather than “community” and the temple called the souls of men.

A made-for-TV church, it is a semblance of the church it was commissioned to be many centuries ago — enraptured by political correctness and with befriending the powers that be rather than speaking truth and practicing a social Gospel that is disruptive and also transformative. It is a church adept at seeing the speck in others’ lives but inept at detecting the beam in its own.

But imagine. … Imagine if the church’s stiff-necked denials and knee-jerk reaction to criticisms from within or without was no longer to circle the wagons but instead to deal circumspectly with those criticisms, with the myriad tales of untold abuse, and to take measures to prevent it.

Imagine the bold confessions of a repentant loving church: An admission that church leadership has indeed looked the other way amid glaring evidence of abuse. That the church is guilty of being MIA at times of great crisis and that it remains mostly mute about the scourge of murder, claiming black lives in genocidal proportions, and other social issues.

Imagine a church that concedes that Pentecostals and Baptists and Methodists have no less sin than Catholics or those of other faiths who hide behind the collar and the cross while serial abusers devour the unsuspecting and vulnerable who once checked in safe at the House of God.

Imagine a church that confessed that the church has brought shame to the name of Christ. A church that does not excuse the perpetrator or the flawed institution itself but seeks to heal and to protect the least of these.

Imagine a church that said: “We are sorry that happened to you. … We believe you. You have every reason to never want to go to church again. Please forgive us and please accept our deepest regrets on behalf of the church.”

Imagine that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is calling the church itself to repent.

Now imagine if we, the church, don’t.

Imagine if the Church Said, “I’m Sorry”

I saw this op-ed on the Chicago Sun-Times. It is reprinted with permission.

Imagine if the church said, ‘I’m sorry’

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Imagine if the church said, “I’m sorry.”

Imagine the collective of Christian churches across America creating, even for just one day, a safe space for those who have been abused in the church, or by the church, to say openly before the assembly — without condemnation that something happened to them in this the most sacred of places we hold so dear.

Imagine …

Imagine if the church ceased from telling church-wounded brothers and sisters to simply “get over it.” Imagine if the church stopped scolding or shaming those countless “victims” over their inability to simply move on. Imagine if the church had a Me Too moment.

OPINION

Imagine a church that no longer attempted to whitewash sins inflicted by the clergy upon the laity — often in secret and shrouded by a form of godliness, though purely evil and often criminal.

The lesser sins: The backbiting from the pews, the shaming, denigration and legalism from the pulpit, the misuse of power. The abuses almost too incomprehensible to utter that have left the sheep bruised and scarred, battered or barely breathing, bitter, until finally turned off to the church and to God, as the church abides mostly in complicit silence.

It is a pervasive silence that has swept over the church at large like a thick fog that obscures the truth and reality of life, love, joy and pain within the age-old institution.

The church. It has been co-opted by a 21st century bling-bling Gospel, by prosperity doctrine and the emergence of the mega church. It is today a much more insular church than the church of old, intoxicatingly focused on building temples of brick and mortar rather than “community” and the temple called the souls of men.

A made-for-TV church, it is a semblance of the church it was commissioned to be many centuries ago — enraptured by political correctness and with befriending the powers that be rather than speaking truth and practicing a social Gospel that is disruptive and also transformative. It is a church adept at seeing the speck in others’ lives but inept at detecting the beam in its own.

But imagine. … Imagine if the church’s stiff-necked denials and knee-jerk reaction to criticisms from within or without was no longer to circle the wagons but instead to deal circumspectly with those criticisms, with the myriad tales of untold abuse, and to take measures to prevent it.

Imagine the bold confessions of a repentant loving church: An admission that church leadership has indeed looked the other way amid glaring evidence of abuse. That the church is guilty of being MIA at times of great crisis and that it remains mostly mute about the scourge of murder, claiming black lives in genocidal proportions, and other social issues.

Imagine a church that concedes that Pentecostals and Baptists and Methodists have no less sin than Catholics or those of other faiths who hide behind the collar and the cross while serial abusers devour the unsuspecting and vulnerable who once checked in safe at the House of God.

Imagine a church that confessed that the church has brought shame to the name of Christ. A church that does not excuse the perpetrator or the flawed institution itself but seeks to heal and to protect the least of these.

Imagine a church that said: “We are sorry that happened to you. … We believe you. You have every reason to never want to go to church again. Please forgive us and please accept our deepest regrets on behalf of the church.”

Imagine that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is calling the church itself to repent.

Now imagine if we, the church, don’t.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Invitation to Victims at Tenth Presbyterian

As several who have been following this story know, I increasingly believe there is much more to the story of potential abuse at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. Indeed, I have had several recent conversations that suggest that issues may go back to Phil Ryken’s time as pastor, and several folks have shared anecdotes that are deeply concerning.

So, my offer is this: If you have been abused at Tenth Presbyterian, or by someone connected with the church, get in touch with me. Dee Parsons of The Wartburg Watch knows how to get in touch with me, and all conversations are confidential unless you specifically request otherwise. My promise to you is to listen respectfully, no matter what you tell me, and to be entirely supportive.

Or feel free to HMU on Twitter @gracealexwatch.

I welcome your comments.






Saturday, October 27, 2018

Catholic Church Gets It; Episcopal Church Remains Clueless

In the midst of the burgeoning Catholic sexual abuse scandal, there is a sad truth that is emerging. Specifically, the Catholics, at least on paper, get that abuse includes many things beyond sexual abuse. The Episcopal Church, and particularly the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, don’t get that.

In its recent communique, the Catholic synod noted that abuse takes many forms; that there often is no way to repair the harm caused by abuse; and that clericalism often comes from a feeling of privilege, versus a notion of being called to service.

Contrast that with Bishop Shannon’s notion that Bob Malm’s misconduct is suddenly, miraculously “behind us,” despite the distress many family members of mine have experienced and lack of any meaningful sign that the diocese, or Bob Malm, understand why his conduct was and is wrong. 

Or Johnston’s claim that matters were “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statements of support for knuckleheads Bob Malm and Leslie Steffensen. 

Or Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s desire to paper over things with a settlement agreement that basically says, “Give Bob everything he wants, and we’re good.” 

Or the abusive, inflammatory language in Bob Malm and Sugarland’s pleadings.

The Catholic Church is a hot mess. But it’s still several steps ahead of the sordid, putrid crock of goo that is The Episcopal Church.





Wednesday, October 10, 2018

“Trust Arrives Slowly, On Foot, But Leaves on Horseback”

During the recent Catholic synod to address abuse in the church, one of the participants made a particularly insightful remark, “Trust arrives slowly, on foot, but leaves quickly, on horseback.” That, and several other comments made during the meeting, are relevant to my conflict with Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church.

To be clear, the Catholic synod is meeting to address sexual abuse; there is no allegation that Bob Malm has engaged in sexual misconduct.

That said, abuse exists across a wide spectrum, ranging from emotional abuse, to relational abuse, to abuse of power. Spiritual abuse encompasses all of these, and other types of abuse as well.

In Bob’s case, his misuse of authority, including his efforts to include Mike and Mom in his vendetta, have destroyed trust on multiple fronts. And, having left on a horse in 2015, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s efforts to flog that horse via accusations of “domestic terrorism” and other inflammatory rhetoric both reflect a lack of understanding of church dynamics, and of the Christian faith.  

The larger point in all of this is encompassed by another comment coming out of the Synod, which is that the abuse crisis “undermines the church in practically every way.” That is true for every type of abuse, including Bob Malm’s spiritual abuse. At every level, Bob and Sugarland Chiow have eroded trust in the church and its moral authority. Even total strangers are shocked and appalled at their efforts, for example, to drag a dying woman into court in violation of Pennsylvania law.

Nor will the damage be quickly resolved. Having spent considerable time and effort over the past three years in trying to get the upper hand in our conflict, Bob and Jeff have underscored their real motivation, which is power and control, not faith. That is an issue that cannot be resolved through a settlement agreement. Indeed, Jeff’s proposed settlement agreement, which contains a non-disclosure clause, would actually have exacerbated things, for conflict cannot be resolved by simply sweeping it under the rug and offering an, “agreed-upon statement.” Such an approach simply drives conflict underground, where it can fester for years afterwards, only to explode back to life unexpectedly.

Of course, the situation also underscores the serious issues that exist with Bishop Shannon and the Diocese of Virginia. Had someone pulled Bob aside long ago and pointed out that things like lying in court aren’t exactly helpful to the church, much of the damage would have been prevented. But having failed to provide adult supervision, Bishop Shannon leaves for others a hot mess. 

It’s interesting too: The Diocese has been consistently flatfooted in its handling of such situations. For example, when issues emerged at St. Thomas’ McLean, the Diocese was supremely indifferent to the effect on the parish and its people. True, the new rector is an excellent choice, but the damage is already done. (If nothing else, don’t announce the news as a surprise at Divine Worship. #clueless)

Can things be resolved going forward? Hard to say. Mom is fast running out of time, and with no one in my family now considering themselves to be Christian, there would be difficulty finding a shared reference point. Indeed, Mike is rabidly anti-Christian, and I want no parts of any faith that thinks trying to drag a dying woman into court is okay, or refers to those who criticize it as “terrorists.”

In short, when the seemingly inevitable day comes when St. Dysfunction aka Grace Church closes its doors, my feeling is that the world will be a better place. Yes, the food pantry, brown bag lunches and other services the church provides are important, but there’s no need to spend $1 million a year to surround these activities with a bunch of liturgical hoo-ha, especially when roughly 20 percent goes to pay for a “professional Christian,” or rector, who appears to have, at best, nominal religious beliefs. Moreover, Grace Church’s closing will end a bastion of organized bullying and control that is typified by Bob’s lying in court, and his trying to subpoena a dying woman.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Don’t let the karmic door hit you on the butt on the way out, Grace Church.